The Shadows of Evening
The late-afternoon sun was sending fingers of chilly darkness across the landscape as Turek topped the last hill and came within sight of the village of Akkad. He stood silently for a moment, looking down with mixed feelings at the sprawl of adobe huts. The villages growth in the years since he'd last been here was good, in a way; a sign that Man's foothold on this uniquely hostile world was increasing. But on the other hand, the more people in an area, the more trouble there generally was with Shadows. Not only were man-made objects in greater abundance to begin with, but there was always an idiot or two in a large village who simply wouldn't learn—and such, Turek suspected, was the case here. Tugging almost savagely on his blue cloak to resettle it on his shoulders, he headed down the hill.
The crowd around the jewelers shop was something of a surprise to him when he arrived there. The messages had said the Shadow was a large one, but even large Shadows weren't usually worth any particular attention by the general populace. Pushing forward—no difficult task; the crowd parted like the Red Sea for him—he came to the inner edge of the ring and saw what they were looking at.
Sitting on the ground, gray face screwed up with pain and nausea, was a middle-aged man in a jeweler's apron. A plump woman knelt beside him, alternately fussing over him and scolding him for some action she clearly considered stupid. In front of him lay a rock-wood slab and a tray of tiny tools, some of which had spilled from their slots onto the dusty ground. On a cloth nearby lay a neat pile of delicate gold chains and sparkling gems.
Turek stood there silently for several seconds before the man noticed him and, gasping with the exertion, scrambled to his feet. Leaning on the woman, who'd also risen, he gave a shallow bow.
"Master Turek, please accept my humble thanks for your generous aid. It is an honor to stand in the presence of a Shadow Warrior, defender of the people—"
Turek cut him off with a wave of his hand. He'd heard a thousand welcoming speeches in the past twenty years and was tired of them. And the gray-faced man was worse than the average at it. "You are Merken the Jeweler?" he asked shortly.
The man bobbed his head. "Yes, Master Turek," he said. Already color was coming back into his wrinkled cheeks; Turek must have arrived just as the jeweler had emerged from the Shadow. For the second or third time, perhaps?
Turek nodded at the wooden slab and tools. "I told the messenger I'd come. Didn't you believe me?"
"Of course, Master, of course," Merken said hastily. "I just... well, in case you were delayed... I can't work inside, and I thought..."
"Um." Turek gazed speculatively at the jewelry shop doorway a dozen feet away. Shadows were invisible to normal sight, of course, but Shadow Warriors had techniques.... Settling his mind into the proper pattern, Turek closed his eyes and willed his pupils to dilate. Then, for a brief second, he snapped them open, closing them again as the sunlight triggered his blink reflex. Squeezing his eyelids tightly, he studied the afterimage burned fox a moment onto his retina.
The Shadow was very clear.
Turek opened his eyes, blinking as the pupils readjusted, and looked at Merken. "It fills the whole building, and extends a good six feet outside," he told the jeweler. "What have you got in there?"
Merken already looked as distressed as he could, but the plump woman still standing beside him whitened slightly. "I'm a jeweler, Master; I have need of many tools and instruments which draw Shadows—"
"I trust you don't consider me an idiot," Turek said coldly. "I'm well acquainted with jewelers tools, and I know how fast Shadows grow around them. That"—he waved at the shop—"wasn't caused by any normal tool. What did you make?"
"Please have mercy, Master," the woman blurted suddenly. "It wasn't his fault—I asked him to make it for me—it was my idea—"
"You aren't to blame," Merken interrupted her, taking a half step to put himself between her and Turek. "I built it; it's my responsibility—"
"Cease!" Turek snapped, reducing them both to frightened silence. "I don't care a beggar's damn whose fault this is. You and your neighbors can thrash that out later. All I want to know is what it is."
"It's a foot-powered gem faceter," Merken mumbled, staring at the ground. "There's a small potter's wheel with adamant dust on it, with a treadle and a gearing system to keep the motion steady. I didn't mean any harm, Master—really. But Romneen here had to do it by hand, and it's hard, with her arthritis and all..." He trailed off.
Turek curled his lip. Always there was someone who seemed to believe the laws of the universe would graciously bend for his convenience. Glancing over his shoulder at the crowd, he raised his voice. "All right, you can all go back to your work now. There's nothing more to be seen here."
The people knew an order when they heard one. Within minutes Turek was alone on the street with the jeweler and his wife. "Relax," he told them, trying to dredge up some of the sympathy that had once been a prominent part of his personality. The effort was only partially successful. "I'm really not here to mete out punishment to anyone. Show me where it is."
Merken still looked shaky, but he nodded and started toward the doorway. "Yes, Master; this way."
The first wisps of feeling began as Turek passed the invisible edge he'd seen earlier. As usual, it started as a vaguely uncomfortable feeling, a sort of exaggerated nervousness. But as they stepped into the shop and walked across the front room it increased, and Turek could feel sweat popping out as his skin began to creep uncomfortably. A feeling of nausea grew steadily in the pit of his stomach; his heart was already pounding loudly. His eyes felt like they were being squeezed into his skull. Firmly, he fought the Shadow's attack—and almost blundered into Merken as the jeweler stopped abruptly and pointed with a trembling hand at a door behind the service counter. "In there," he managed, gagging. Turning, he fled the building.
Turek snorted with contempt as he continued alone. Behind the door, under a high window, he found the device Merken had described.
He stood there a moment, swaying only slightly, as he studied the mechanism. The tapered gears were made entirely from wood, as was the potter's wheel and a device that appeared to be some sort of speed governor. Turek smiled grimly as he realized there wasn't a scrap of metal anywhere on the apparatus. The jeweler was apparently one of those who believed that something wasn't technology if it didn't make use of wrought metal. Any Shadow Warrior could have told him differently, of course—if he'd bothered to ask.
A touch of dizziness swept over Turek, reminding him he was wasting time in the most uncomfortable of places. Bracing himself against the doorjamb, he set his teeth and focused his mind; just so...
For a moment he felt nothing but the sickness in his body. Then, abruptly, something seemed to click.
And he was in union with the Shadow.
The darkness came like a wave, threatening to overwhelm him, to drag him into some nameless place where light never pierced. With practiced ease he deflected the assault and launched his counterattack. Be destroyed! Scatter to the winds!
It resisted his blow, and for an instant Turek seemed to hear something: like voices, but faint and wordless and inhuman. And then he felt the resistance break, and he was back in the jewelry shop.
Pushing off from the doorjamb, Turek headed back outside, walking as quickly as pride allowed. Clearly, the Shadow still existed; he hadn't expected to destroy it completely with a single assault. But his body told him it had reached its limit, and he knew better than to push Shadow-contact past that point. Besides, it would be easier to tell how much damage he'd done from outside.
He stepped from the building, and almost immediately felt the Shadow's effect disappear. A good sign; and when he'd regained some of his strength he checked it visually. Sure enough, the edge of the Shadow had receded almost four feet.
Merken and his wife were standing by the pile of jewelry and tools, looking nervous. "It's going to take several days, but I can do it," Turek told them.
"Several days?" Merken echoed, looking stricken.
"Yes, days," Turek snapped with a flash of anger. "And you're lucky I'm going to do it at all. Of all people, a craftsman like you should have known how fast Shadow collects around something that's obviously man-made." "I'm sorry, Master, truly sorry," Merken said, cringing.
"Oh, forget it," Turek muttered, disgusted both with the jeweler and with himself. He shouldn't have gotten angry; the little fool had just been trying to make life a little bit easier for himself.
Even after ten generations, some realities were hard to accept.
A cool breeze found its way underneath Turek's cloak. He shivered, glancing upward to locate the sun. Only an hour or so until sunset; he'd been in there with the Shadow longer than he realized. "I can't do any more here today," he told Merken. "Is Persh's Inn still in business?"
"Yes, Master. Just down this street and turn—"
"I know where it is. I'll be back in the morning."
Turning on his heel, Turek headed down the street.
Persh's Inn was pretty much as Turek remembered it, though he'd only spent an afternoon there the last time he was in Akkad. He had barely seated himself at an empty table when the proprietor bustled up.
"Welcome back, Master Turek," Persh said, placing a carved-wood mug of lukewarm tarri in front of him. "How may I serve you?"
Turek smiled slightly. "Your memory for names is good. Do you remember how I like my tannu roast done?"
Persh's eyes defocused for an instant. "Lemon-seared rare, as I recall, Master. Served with salted green roll and plenty of hot tarri."
"Very good," Turek nodded. "I'll have the same now. Also, I'll need a room for the night."
"Yes, Master. Anything else you'd like?" The tone suggested anything meant exactly that.
For an instant Turek's gaze flickered past the innkeeper to the girl serving at the bar—Persh's daughter, probably. For a moment he was tempted.... "No, nothing else. Tell me, how are the Shadows around here? Any need clearing out?"
Persh shrugged. "Oh, a few are getting to a fairly uncomfortable size, but nothing is really critical. We're careful to keep our tools as primitive as possible, you know, while still being able to serve our customers. Of course, we'd surely appreciate it if you'd clear some of the Shadows out while you're here, but it's not like you have to for your—uh—" "For my room and board?" Turek felt his expression hardening.
"Uh... yes, Master. Of course your stay here is without charge—we honor the old customs!—"
"Just bring me my dinner," Turek interrupted him. "I'll clear out your Shadows later."
"Yes, Master; thank you, Master." Persh hurried away across the room.
Turek watched him go, his irritation melting into a mild depression. Fear; and an exaggerated deference that bordered on apotheosis. Simple friendship—the kind he'd had with people in his first few years as a Shadow Warrior—seemed to have all but vanished from his life. Only with other Shadow Warriors could he really be accepted just for who he was.
The other tables were filling up as the workday drew to a close and people stopped in for dinner or a quick drink. Frequent bursts of laughter began to punctuate the growing din of conversation; clearly, Akkad as a whole didn't seem unduly concerned by the presence of a large Shadow in their village. Turek listened silently to the noise, feeling more isolated than ever, and found himself watching the girl behind the bar. As recently as a couple of years ago he would've taken Persh up on his implied offer of feminine company. But that same fear had permeated that type of interaction, too, and the results were increasingly disappointing. Resolutely, he turned his gaze from the girl. No sense torturing himself.
Persh arrived a few moments later with a large plate heaped with food and set it down in front of Turek, snagging a pitcher of tarri from a passing waiter and refilling the Shadow Warrior's half-empty mug. Bowing nervously, he backed away, a trifle too hurriedly. Sighing, Turek picked up his flatware and began to eat.
The meal was something of a disappointment. The tannu, while juicy enough, lacked some of the subtle flavors he remembered from his last visit. The green roll, too, seemed to have been overcooked, leaving some of the vegetables on the tasteless side. Only the tarri tasted right, and even it was no better than the tarri a man could get anywhere.
Engrossed in his meal, Turek didn't notice the slight dip in conversation noise; didn't notice anything, in fact, until the bulky man settled into the chair opposite him.
Startled, Turek looked up—and smiled. "Weege! What're you doing here?"
The other man slid his blue Shadow Warrior's cloak off onto the chair back with a sigh that bespoke tiredness. "Oh, that feels good. Hello, Turek. What am I doing here? Eighty percent passing through; twenty percent looking for you."
"Oh, I'm flattered." Turek signaled, but he needn't have bothered; Persh was already hurrying over with a mug and pitcher. "What is it, trouble somewhere?"
"Not really." Weege nodded his thanks for the tarri as Persh poured, waving off the innkeepers offer of dinner. "I'd hoped to catch you at Keilberg, but when I arrived they told me you'd come here. It was more or less on my way, so I thought I'd drop by with the current rumor," He took a sip from his steaming mug. "Tell me, have you ever heard of a guy named Javan? Comes from somewhere north of Lazuli."
"The self-proclaimed mystic? Sure. Claims to have a new way to destroy Shadows. Standard fruitcake."
"Maybe," Weege said, gazing into the depths of his mug. "But he's causing quite a stir. I hear he's got close on a hundred disciples and students now and is claiming a high success rate against Shadows."
Turek frowned. "A hundred students, eh? That's a good-sized army for a charlatan."
"Yeah. Some of us think it's time we challenged him, put him to a real test."
"Not our problem here, though. Lazuli's a long ways off."
"Javan isn't, though," came the dry response. "He's just a few hours' walk from here, up at Lander's Waste."
Turek sat up straighter. "Up by the old ship? What for?"
"Probably going to practice his technique. You can't find a bigger Shadow on the planet, you know."
"The kid sure thinks big," Turek growled. The old colony ship that had brought mankind to Vesper hadn't been approached since the day it landed, the day when its seven hundred passengers and crew ran gasping from it and the Shadow which had begun to grow around it. For a while they'd feared the Shadow might grow forever, engulfing the whole planet in agony, but it had finally stopped. Legend had it that right by the ship itself the Shadow was dense enough to kill. "Maybe he'll try to walk to the ship. That would settle the whole thing right there."
"I doubt he's stupid enough to do that. No, he's probably doing this for the psychological value—you know, brave new Warrior camping on the doorstep of Shadow."
"Yeah." Turek gazed unseeing around the room, drumming his fingers thoughtfully on the table. "Maybe we ought to go up and challenge him. I'm on a job, but I could put it off a day."
"It's completely up to you," Weege said. "I can't go with you; like I said, I'm just passing through. Calneh's got a crisis situation on their hands, and they need my help. In fact, I can't even stay the night." He got to his feet, scooping his cloak with one hand and his mug with the other. Draining the latter, he dropped it back on the table and nodded at Turek. "We'll see you around, Turek. Give Javan a boot for me if you go."
"Sure. Safe trip to you."
Turek brooded for several minutes after Weege left, trying to decide what to do. The idea of facing down a hundred zealots did not especially appeal to him, even if they weren't far enough gone yet that they would actually attack a Shadow Warrior. But allowing a charlatan to operate unchallenged was a bad idea, too. Among other things, it tarnished the image of legitimate Shadow Warriors.
The decision actually came easily. Merken's shop would just have to wait an extra day. Turek couldn't feel particularly sorry about it—after all, the mess was the jeweler's own fault. Maybe next time he'd think before playing with advanced technology.
Flagging down Persh, Turek asked that a message be sent to Merken informing him there would be a short delay in the clearing out of his Shadow. Then he returned to his meal, discovering in the process that it wasn't any more palatable cold than it had been warm. He ate it, though, and downed two more mugs of tarri before calling it an evening.
And before going to bed, he spent an hour clearing Shadows from the inn's kitchen and toolroom.
He was up with the sun, and after a tolerable breakfast he set off for Lander's Waste.
It turned out to be a surprisingly refreshing walk. He was in no particular hurry for this confrontation, and as a result set a more comfortable pace than usual for himself. The meal Persh had packed at his request—Turek had no intention of breaking bread with Javan—rode easily on his shoulder, over his blue cloak. For the first time in months Turek found himself paying attention to the landscape around him, really looking at the multicolored plants dotting the gently rolling scrubland. Small animals darted around or sought cover as he passed; twice he spotted the double-wedge of migrating oriflammes, their red-gold plumage vivid against the deep blue of the sky. It was invigorating and strangely restful, as if he'd somehow been transported back to his youth, to the days before he became a Shadow Warrior. The blue cloak carries great weight, as the double-edged aphorism went, but even those who wore it seldom realized just how heavy the load was. To be free of the weight for even a few hours was an unexpected blessing.
An hour before noon, he reached Lander's Waste.
The term "waste" was somewhat misleading, since it looked no different than the area immediately surrounding it Native Vesperian plants and animals thrived there, completely unaffected by the eight-mile diameter Shadow that had enveloped them for the past two hundred years. A ring of red granite boulders, laboriously moved there by the original colonists, marked the Shadow's edge. Just for practice, Turek used his afterimage technique and confirmed the edge was still where it always had been. No surprises there. Someday, he knew, the ship at the center would start to fall apart, its tools and machines collapsing back into dust— and when that finally happened, the Shadow would begin to shrink. Even as Turek began his circumference of the Waste, he shook his head in wonder. Two hundred years. Someone had really built that ship to last.
He'd gone less than a mile before he came upon Javan's camp, a sprawling tent city pushing nearly to the edge of the Shadow. A quick count showed Weege's estimate had been, if anything, conservative—there were easily enough accommodations here for a hundred and fifty people. A fair percentage of that number were visible around the area, doing various chores or sitting motionlessly just outside the boulder ring. Squaring his shoulders, Turek strode forward.
They saw him coming, of course, and a committee of five teenaged youths met him a hundred feet from the nearest tent. "Greeting to you, Master Shadow Warrior," their spokesman said formally in a voice that mixed friendliness, respect, and wariness. "I am Polyens. How may I serve you?"
"I am Turek," the Shadow Warrior told him. "I am here to see Javan."
"May I ask your business?"
Turek felt the first stirrings of anger. "My business is with Javan, not his gulls."
A low rumbling from the group cut off instantly at a signal from Polyens, and Turek revised upwards his estimate of the youth's position in the organization. Polyens' next words confirmed it. "I'm an aide to Javan, not merely one of his students. Do you pledge safety?"
Turek smiled sardonically. "In the middle of his own camp? Of course. Besides"—he raised the sides of his cloak away from his body—"you can see I'm unarmed."
"Very well. Please come with me."
Polyens led the way inward, the other four youths falling into step a few feet behind Turek. An untrusting lot, he thought, ignoring the covert looks others in the camp threw at him as he passed. Once more he was among people who feared—or even hated—him, and the youthful feeling of the early morning was gone without a trace. He was again a veteran Shadow Warrior, with all that that meant.
They came to a tent near the Shadow's edge, and Polyens disappeared inside. Almost immediately he emerged, accompanied by a cheerful-faced young man who couldn't be over twenty-five years old. "Greeting to you, Master Turek," he said, bowing with what seemed to be genuine respect. "I am Javan; welcome to my school. May I offer you refreshment?"
Turek shook his head. "I'm not here as a friend, Javan. I've come to issue a challenge."
Polyens took a step toward Turek, his face thunderous, but Javan stopped him with a touch. "Peace. It's not a regular challenge; he's asking me to prove my abilities against Shadow."
Polyens relaxed. "Oh, I thought you were breaking your pledge," he explained, a little sheepishly.
Javan bailed him out. "Why don't you go get us some water?" he suggested. "Master Turek must be thirsty."
"At once." Looking relieved, Polyens hurried out.
"I've already said—" Turek began.
"I know," Javan interrupted him. "But you can surely drink water with me without commitment. Besides"—he smiled ingenuously—"it's been a long time since I've had the chance to talk with a Shadow Warrior. Won't you please indulge me?"
Turek shrugged. "Oh, all right." Ducking under the flap, he entered Javan's tent.
Given the size of his following, Turek had expected Javan would live in somewhat greater luxury than the tent's furnishings showed. The bed and straw- filled contour chairs were of the sort that any peasant might own, and aside from a simple candlestick to augment the light from the tent's windows, there wasn't anything "advanced" to be seen anywhere. Turek mentally added a point to his side: anyone who claimed power over Shadows shouldn't be afraid to own Shadow-drawing items.
"Your accent sounds mid-Southern," Javan commented as he gestured Turek to one of the contour chairs. "Are you from Paysan, by any chance?"
"Keilberg," Turek said shortly.
"Ah. I've never been there, but I've heard good things about it." Javan paused as Polyens appeared with a pitcher of water and two mugs. The youth poured in silence and left, and Javan raised his cup. "To your health," he said, drinking deeply and then setting aside the mug. "And now tell me, Master Turek—what are your thoughts concerning Shadow?"
Turek blinked once, caught off guard by the unexpected question. "What do you mean?"
"How do you visualize it when you battle it? As a natural phenomenon like rot, or as a living force?"
Turek sipped at his water, considering. He'd never thought about it in exactly those terms before. "I don't know. Sometimes I seem to hear voices when I'm fighting it. But on the other hand, it doesn't seem to learn or to focus its effect in any way, like you'd expect it to if it were trying to destroy us." He shrugged. "I'm not sure it makes any difference what it is. It grows; we clear it out."
"It does make a difference," Javan disagreed quickly. "If it's not alive, there may indeed be only one way to get rid of it, like cutting rot away from fruit. But if it is alive, there may be several ways to attack it."
Turek put his mug on the ground and crossed his arms across his chest. Now the conversation was going somewhere. "I already know one way to attack Shadow—and, in case you've forgotten, it took our ancestors five generations to develop it. So tell me about this new method you've got that everyone else has somehow missed."
"First of all, I should point out I'm also familiar with the standard way. I don't suppose you know, but I studied for three years to become a Shadow Warrior. And I didn't miss the cut," he added, correctly interpreting Turek's expression. "I left voluntarily."
"Why? Afraid you couldn't handle the Final Test?"
"Maybe partly. But mainly because of all the ones who didn't make the apprentice cut. It seemed such a waste of effort, on everyone's part."
"Fighting Shadows isn't easy. It takes strength of mind and a lot of stamina."
"Certainly, the way you do it. But I've found an easier way." Javan hunched forward earnestly. "You see, the usual method involves a sort of head-to-head confrontation where you have to basically overpower the Shadow—fight it with its own weapons, so to speak. The problem with this is that you have to go right into the Shadow, where it's strongest, and actually make contact with it. It's a terrific strain, which ages Shadow Warriors far before their time, and even seems to affect their personalities."
"Our personalities are not your concern," Turek said bluntly. "As for the rest of it, it's the price we pay to help the people of Vesper. And we pay it willingly."
"I'm sure you do. But it's not necessary. You don't need to outdarken the darkness, so to speak. You can use light."
"Light?" Turek had lost track of all the charlatans throughout history who had tried using light against Shadow. "Yes—but not the kind you mean. It's an inner light, a sort of psychic glow."
Turek hadn't really intended the words to sound so harsh, but that was the way they came out. Javan reddened with anger. "So now you're going to give the verdict before the trial? Very convenient—saves time, I imagine."
"Don't worry; you're not going to get me into that old trap," Turek said grimly. " 'Shadow Warrior persecution' is a standard charlatan excuse, and I'm going to make sure you can't use it."
"Charlatan!" Javan stood up abruptly, glaring down at Turek. For a moment the tent was filled with a brittle silence as Javan slowly regained a grip on his temper. "All right; enough talk, then. Name the test."
Turek closed his eyes, opened and closed them again. No good. Shadows eventually grew up around anything man-made, but with the primitive furnishings of Javan's tent the effect was much too slow to worry about. The Shadows blanketing the chairs and candlestick were thin enough that anyone with a modicum of Shadow Warrior training could handle them, and Turek had no intention of making things that easy for Javan. "Nothing worth doing in here. Let's go outside."
After the relative dimness of the tent the bright sunlight was dazzling, and Turek made use of it for two more afterimage searches. Again he was out of luck no decent Shadows were visible anywhere. "You keep a clean camp," he grunted.
Javan shrugged. "The meditation required to learn my technique is hampered when a student is surrounded by lots of different Shadows. The learning comes quicker when there's just a single strong Shadow to work on."
A malicious smile tugged at the corners of Turek's mouth. "Thanks for reminding me. There is a decent-sized Shadow around for your test."
Javan seemed taken aback. "You can't mean Landers Waste."
"Why not? Ordinary Shadow Warrior technique is useless against something that size. Ideal way to prove your stuff."
"That's completely unfair—" Javan began, but just then Polyens came around the corner of the tent.
"Excuse me, Javan, but there's a man here to see you about clearing out a Shadow," he said, his eyes flickering between his master and Turek. "He said it was important."
With one final glare at Turek, Javan deliberately turned to Polyens. "Bring him here." Polyens looked toward the rear of the tent and nodded, and a middle-aged man came nervously into view.
It was Merken the Jeweler.
He froze in midstep as he recognized Turek, and the color drained from his face. "Master Turek!" he gasped.
Turek took a step toward him, fists clenched at his side, a sour taste in his mouth. "Yes, Merken, it's me. What's the matter, didn't you trust me to come back? You thought I was going to break my word?"
Merken was rapidly approaching a state of terror. "No, Master, no! But your message said you'd be delayed, and I didn't know how long, and I just thought—I mean, I've heard of Javan—and I thought maybe..." He ran out of words as he tried to burrow deeper into his cloak.
Turek took another step forward... and Javan was suddenly between him and Merken. "What seems to be the problem?" he asked calmly.
"Nothing!" Turek bit out. "Apparently the residents of Akkad don't trust Shadow Warriors. Fine; I'll see to it that no Shadow Warrior ever goes near the place again."
Turek had thought Merken's face as devoid of color as possible, but now he had the satisfaction of seeing the jeweler whiten still further. "Wait," he choked. "Please. It would destroy Akkad—no one could ever live there again."
"You should have thought of that before you decided I wasn't trustworthy." Turning his back, Turek began to walk away.
"Just a moment, Master Turek," Javan called.
Turek spun around, half-expecting to see Javan's minions approaching with fighting sticks drawn. But no one moved. "What?"
"It seems to me this would be a good opportunity for you to test my technique. I take it that this Shadow is one even a Shadow Warrior would have trouble with?"
"It'll take several attacks to get rid of it," Turek muttered, thoughts racing. It would be a good test, come to think of it—there was no way Javan could use Shadow Warrior methods against it without that being obvious. And there would be neutral witnesses there, enough to counter Javan's forces even if he brought his whole army along. "All right," he said at last. "The Shadow in Merken's shop— that's your test."
Javan nodded. "Good. We can leave immediately, if you're agreeable. Just let me get a few things for the trip." —
Javan either had a great deal of confidence in himself or he shrewdly realized that descending on Akkad with a mob of his partisans would be ill-advised and unproductive. Thus, only four men left Lander's Waste a half hour later: Turek, Merken, Javan, and Polyens.
Turek walked in front, alone. His anger at Merken had cooled, leaving an undefinable ache in its place. Why he had reacted so violently before, he still didn't know, and it both irritated and worried him. After all, there was nothing like a contract between Merken and himself, and he had forgotten to mention in his message that he would probably not be gone more than a day. But logic didn't help, and the hurt remained.
If the others noticed his irritation, they didn't show it. Javan, especially, ignored him, preferring instead to keep up a more or less running conversation with Merken, asking about everything from the jeweler's family to the quality of life in Akkad. From his position ahead of them Turek couldn't help but hear every word, and he listened closely. But if Javan was just trying to swing Merken onto his side, he was doing a superb job of it. Nowhere in voice or questions could Turek detect anything but honest friendliness.
It was late afternoon when they reached Akkad. Merken's wife had clearly been on the lookout for them; she and a small crowd of neighbors were waiting at the shop when the four men arrived. Ignoring the uneasy looks the villagers were giving him, Turek stepped into the middle of the group. "In accordance with the laws and customs of Vesper, I hereby challenge the man Javan to prove his claimed power over Shadow," he announced, keeping his expression and voice neutral. "You are all called upon to be witnesses." Turning, he faced Javan and gestured toward the jewelry shop.
Javan walked forward slowly, stopping at the edge of the Shadow. For a moment he stood quietly, and Turek saw him use what seemed to be a slight modification of the Shadow Warrior afterimage technique. He raised his right hand, open palm just touching the Shadow, and the faint murmuring of the crowd cut off into an expectant silence. Turek watched him closely, every sense alert for whatever trickery he was about to use.
—And suddenly Javan blazed with light!
With a cry, Turek stepped back, instinctively throwing an arm over his face. But it was a useless gesture; the searing glare was in his mind, not his eyes. Desperately, he tried to fight it, to block it the way he'd blocked the thousands of Shadow attacks throughout the years. But for once it didn't work, and there was no time to make it work, for even as his defense cracked before the onslaught he felt himself falling....
And the light vanished into a cool and welcome darkness. —
The darkness lightened only slowly, and seemed somehow mixed with a cool wetness. As if from the bottom of a deep pond, Turek struggled upward and finally came awake.
He opened his eyes. He was lying on the floor of Merken's jewelry shop, his head pillowed on something soft. Beside him knelt Javan, his brow furrowed, wringing out a wet cloth into a small basin. "Never mind that," Turek said hoarsely.
Javan's head came around with obvious surprise. "You're awake," he said, dropping the cloth back into the basin. "How do you feel?"
"What do you care?" Turek glanced around the room, and for the first time noticed the lack of Shadow symptoms. "The Shadow?"
"Destroyed," Javan said. There was no trace of triumph in his voice. "Polyens and some of the others took Merken's device to the edge of town to break it up before the Shadow starts growing back."
Turek looked up at the youth, feeling his whole body sag. "You destroyed it," he said, the words tasting like ashes in his mouth. "You really did it—and with enough power left over to blast me, too."
Javan shook his head, his eyes full of concern. "That wasn't on purpose, Turek, believe me. I don't understand what happened to you. Most people can't see the light at all, much less be bothered by it—even I can just barely detect it. Merken's wife Romneen has gone for a doctor; maybe he can help."
"Never mind him—I'm all right. And it's probably never happened before because you've never had a Shadow Warrior present." Laboriously, Turek got to his feet, brushing off Javan's attempts to help him. "You said it yourself, this morning. Remember? Close contact with Shadows affects your personality." He wavered for a moment, as a brief touch of dizziness came and went. "I expect I've... absorbed... too much of Shadow into myself. However that light of yours burns up Shadow, it hit me, too."
"I'm sorry," Javan said in a low voice. "I had no idea."
"Forget it. It's not going to be a problem for you. Once the word is passed, the rest of the Shadow Warriors will stay out of your way." Turek's cloak and food bag stood on a nearby chair, the latter reminding him he'd skipped lunch and was ravenously hungry. No matter; he could eat once he was out of town. Picking up his things, he headed for the door.
"Where are you going?" Javan asked.
"I'm leaving Akkad, of course." "Why?"
Turek paused to fasten his cloak. "Why not? I'm not needed here anymore."
He started forward again, but with a few quick strides Javan passed him and stood in the doorway. "Master Turek, I don't wish to part as enemies. Won't you please try to understand what I'm trying to do?"
Turek stopped. "I understand completely. You want to clear all the Shadows from Vesper, to free mankind from the drudgery of having to do everything by hand. Why do you think I became a Shadow Warrior?"
"Then you have to realize what this new method means for our people. It's easier to learn, takes much less effort for the same results, and—most important of all—doesn't require that constant penetration of Shadow that you've had to go through. It'll free all of us up that much more, you included. It'll be good for Vesper."
The youth was almost pleading, Turek realized—pleading for Turek's blessing, or at least his acceptance. But the Shadow Warrior remained silent, and after a moment Javan bowed his head slightly and stepped aside.
The sun was low in the sky as Turek set off for the edge of town. It would be night long before he could reach Keilberg, but he didn't care; anything was better than staying in the same village with Javan.
He paused at the top of the first hill to tighten his cloak and his gaze almost magnetically turned back toward Akkad. Already it was too dark to see individuals unless they carried candles, but in his mind's eye he could see Javan and Polyens as they celebrated their victory over Shadow... and over the Shadow Warriors.
Turek smiled humorlessly. Yes, he understood Javan perfectly; that youthful idealism and desire to serve might once have been Turek's own. And the new technique would be beneficial... at least for Vesper as a whole.
But for the Shadow Warriors?
Turek had grappled with Shadow for half his life, had sweated and suffered and gotten sick so that others could maintain their precarious existence on this world. He'd kept at it doggedly, long after the warm glow of youthful enthusiasm had faded, even long after the multitude of Shadow-contacts had begun to poison every facet of his being, until only a dry sense of duty was left to keep him going. A wife, a family, any kind of normal life—all had been impossible for him to have.
He'd given his entire life to battle... but now Javan had proved that the sacrifice hadn't been necessary, that an easier way was possible.
And Turek had wasted his life for nothing.
"It's not fair!" he shouted abruptly at the blood-red sunset. "Do you hear me? It's not fair!"
There was no answer, and after a moment Turek turned his back on Akkad and continued on into the growing darkness.
It's been obvious since at least the Industrial Revolution that advances benefiting society as a whole can be pretty hard on segments of that same society. But unemployment aside, I think Turek's reaction illustrates a good part of the psychological resistance to change: the fear that doing things the hard way when an easier way exists somehow makes one a fool. The fact that that conclusion simply isn't true doesn't really matter—emotional reactions by definition lack logic.
If we could somehow eliminate this fear of looking foolish, would some of our resistance to change also disappear? And, given that not all change is beneficial, would losing that resistance be good or bad in the long run?